04/26/2022, 13.21
GATEWAY TO THE EAST
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Gaza parish priest: Easter of peace, countering those who nourish war and tension

by Dario Salvi

In spite of the clashes of recent weeks, life in the Strip "flows normally", schools and markets are open. Even the activities in the parish are "full to capcity". Fr. Romanelli reports the Russian war in Ukraine does not seem to affect "everyday life for now". The wish for an end of Ramadan celebration "in peace" and a "solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Milan (AsiaNews) - In spite of the interests of some groups that want to "exacerbate" and destroy Israeli-Palestinian relations, the situation in Gaza is "quite calm, despite fears and underlying tensions: I know it may seem disconcerting, but life flows normally, schools and markets are open, the activities in the parish are fully carried out."

Gabriel Romanelli, an Argentinean priest of the Incarnate Word, tells AsiaNews about life in the Strip, where the faithful have packed the churches for Easter - Latin and Orthodox - and Muslims are heading towards the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer. Even the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with fears of conflict on a global scale (for now) seem a distant echo.

For over a month Israel and the West Bank have been the scene of increasing violence, which has escalated with the approach of the main Christian, Muslim and Jewish holidays (Ramadan and Easter). This is the bloodiest armed drift since the May 2021 blitzkrieg in the Strip.

For the last days of the holy month of fasting and Islamic prayer that ends in early May with the feast of Eid al Fitr, the Israeli police intends to block access to the Esplanade of Mosques, in Jerusalem, to Jewish believers and tourists. Then there is the knot of the al-Aqsa mosque, which for the Muslim world remains an insurmountable "red line". 

The parish priest of Gaza says the "common thought" is that there are "interests, but above all different groups" who want to "further exacerbate" relations. Analyzing the situation in the Strip, Fr. Romanelli emphasizes that since last year's war "the daily reality has improved, this year the authorities have issued 20,000 work permits to Gaza citizens who can cross the Erez crossing and go to work in Israel". This improvement also involves Christians, because "there have been no attacks on property or buildings in recent weeks" and were issued "722 permits for Easter, for the first time lasting three months. The faithful were able to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, even the Galilee to the north." 

A year after the conflict, the priest - in these days in Argentina for a brief visit to his homeland - emphasizes that "neither Israel nor Palestine, nor the same authorities in Gaza want another armed clash" with devastating consequences. In fact, after the first rockets, Hamas leaders have immediately denied any involvement. In the area there are at least 16 brigades or armed political factions, not just one dominant group; however, the common desire of the people, of the citizens is that nobody wants this escalation to turn into a war".

At the same time, the cleric adds, "it must be stated frankly that if solutions are not found to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, peace will be increasingly fragile. It is necessary to work for justice and security, because as Saint John Paul II said, there is no peace without justice, without true reconciliation. This is my wish, that there may be full reconciliation in God and among brothers". 

Speaking of peace and reconciliation, one's thoughts inevitably turn to the war launched by Russia against Ukraine and the military escalation of recent weeks, in a thicket of opposing claims and cross accusations that are increasingly distancing the margins for negotiation and dialogue.

"The conflict [in Europe]," says Fr. Romanelli, "affects us in a certain way, but not in daily life where it appears, at least for now, as distant and seems not to touch the people here. They talk about it and, as happens in other parts of the world, there are people in favor of Kiev and others who side with Moscow, those who are close to Putin and others who support Ukraine. Even the fact that two Christian nations are at war is not an element that is emphasized too much, even if the link with these countries remains strong, because many have studied in the past in Ukraine as in Russia and some still identify with the former Soviet Union". 

The tensions of the last few weeks and the (distant) echo of the war in Europe did not prevent a large participation in the Easter celebrations, for the first time after two years without any particular restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"In spite of everything - confirms the parish priest - the services were beautiful and well attended. Perhaps with a few less faithful, who benefited from the permits and were able to go to Bethlehem, Jerusalem or Ramallah to celebrate, but this is a positive element. We lived Holy Week and the Easter triduum with great solemnity, thanks also to the commitment of the young people who animated the Way of the Cross on Good Friday. Then on Saturday, the day of the vigil with the meditation of the scriptures, of the Old and New Testament, a beautiful and intense moment of reflection".

The hope is that all, Catholics and Orthodox, Jews and Muslims, can celebrate with joy and harmony. It is unacceptable that "the festivities should be the cause of escalation or a pretext to fuel violence" by extremist groups who "seek provocation to exasperate tempers and spark conflict. The same authorities of Israel - concludes Fr. Romanelli - had to intervene to prevent groups [of the religious right and ultra-Orthodox] to make a sacrifice at the Esplanade of Mosques. These are unacceptable provocations, the hope is that Muslims too can celebrate in peace the feast of the end of Ramadan". 

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